Jess is best known for her critically-acclaimed Murder-by-Month mysteries, which have earned multiple starred reviews from Library Journal and Booklist, the latter calling her writing “a splendid mix of humor and suspense.” She is a tenured professor of creative writing and sociology, a recipient of The Loft’s 2014 Excellence in Teaching fellowship, and leads interactive writing workshops all over the world. Salem’s Cipher, the first in her thrilling Witch Hunt Series, hits stores September 2016. You can visit her on Facebook or Twitter.
Shannon writes the Kate Fox mystery series (September 2016 from Tor/Forge). Stripped Bare, the first in the series, features a sheriff in rural Nebraska and has been called Longmire meets The Good Wife. Baker also writes the Nora Abbott Mystery Series, a fast-paced mix of murder, environmental issues and Hopi Indians published by Midnight Ink. Baker was voted Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers’ 2104 Writer of the Year. She writes from the Colorado Rockies to the Nebraska Sandhills, the peaks of Flagstaff and the deserts of Tucson. Visit her on Facebook or Twitter.
Giveaway! Jess and Shannon are each giving away a book. Give us a one-line bit of writing or life advice you treasure, or leave a comment for a chance to win.
The Writing Tricks We’d Be Naked Without
All writers have a bag of tricks up their sleeve, a bag so weathered from desperate rifling that it’s a wonder it doesn’t fall apart. Today, Jess and Shannon—who’ve published 19 books between them—share the tricks they wouldn’t write without. Some they came by honestly and others they stole.
Shannon says…Write From Beginning To End
I know there are writers who will disagree with me on this one, and everyone gets to do it their own way. But I gallop from page one to the end. I don’t go back and edit along the way, even if I need major revisions. I make buckets of notes and catch it all on the second draft. Here’s my reasoning: chances are, I’ll end up revising the revision as I get to know my story and characters more intimately. I throw away earlier notes and replace them with better ideas. Plus, I hate to lose momentum, because, like Jess, I have a 2000 word a day train chugging and I don’t want it derailed. Revisions take a whole different quota.
Jess says…Word Count Vs. Time Count When Writing
Always give yourself a daily word count when you’re writing. If you err and give yourself a time count, say two hours in the chair, you’ll find yourself justifying “awful plastic surgery” and Awkward Family Photos as “legitimate research.” It took me a year of flailing in this manner to update my method. Now, I write 2000 words a day, five days a week (with time off for good behavior), which results in two books a year.
Jess says…Write Your Novel To One Person
This second piece of advice comes from Elizabeth Gilbert, who was speaking at a retreat in the spring of 2015. A young author asked Ms. Gilbert how she knew which ideas to use when writing Eat, Pray, Love and which to leave out. The question wasn’t so much about using up all your good stuff as it was about being overwhelmed with potential directions and not knowing how to select what helped the story and what hurt it.
“That’s easy,” Ms. Gilbert said. “Every book I write, I write to one person. It doesn’t have to be someone close to me, and they don’t ever have to know.”
The idea struck me as both simple and revolutionary: which one person am I writing this book for? Who most needs to read it? What parts of the story must they know? What won’t matter to them? What tone must I strike? By selecting a one-person audience and writing to that person from the brainstorming stage to final edits, I instinctively know what to include in my novel and what to leave out.
Jess says…Use All Your Good Stuff Now
Carolyn Hart was speaking on a Malice Domestic panel in 2007. She was at the conference to accept the Lifetime Achievement Award, and over 200 fans packed the room. During the Q & A portion of the panel, one aspiring writer timidly raised her hand and asked Ms. Hart whether she should hold off on using all of her good ideas in her first novel because then what would she have left for her second one?
After some polite laughter in the room (which I didn’t understand until later—the question seemed excellent), Ms. Hart said, “Use your good ideas now. Your brain will make more. I promise.” Maya Angelou concurs in her famous quote: “You can’t use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have.”
Since then, I never hold back when I write.
Shannon says…Make Friends And Be Nice
This is one of those lessons from the sandbox that stands the test of a lifetime. The writing business is tough and no one understands that better than other writers. Forming relationships, even cyber friendships, might help ease the pain and at least make the journey more fun. Other writers can help with accountability, give advice, support and urge you on.
While not the main reason to make friends in the business, other writers can help you out. They can invite you to be a guest on their blog, set up signings with you, introduce you to others. And you can do the same for them, because helping friends always feels good.
Shannon says…Teach A Workshop
I’m not a natural teacher and I’ve successfully avoided it forever. But in an effort at marketing, I decided to try my hand teaching a writers workshop. I started with a presentation on novel openings. In preparation, I read the beginnings of a bunch of bestsellers and I picked them apart. Through that analysis, and practicing the presentation and then giving it several times, I internalized a ton of insight into beginnings and I think I write better openings as a result. I’ve since prepared workshops on all manner of craft issues. It’s a great way to focus and force myself to learn.
Reminder…Jess and Shannon are each giving away a book. Give us a one-line bit of writing or life advice you treasure, or leave a comment for a chance to win.